The first, most basic trick (which, sadly, isn’t hinted at by the game at all) is to just… not make a lot of items at once.
It’s counter-intuitive, I know; but you can save both your hearthlings and your computer a LOT of work by doing smaller batches (i.e. only make what you need right now/immediate future), and let them finish that task before starting a new one.
In real life, that’s a pretty inefficient way to do things; but Stonehearth is not real life – the hearthlings don’t have human brains which can intuitively figure out how to group similar tasks and do them at the same time… rather, they have to follow a checklist really rigidly. It is possible as a human player to figure out how to group some tasks together so the hearthlings can do them all at once to save time, just like we would IRL… but mostly, you have to treat the hearthlings more like “parts in a machine” than “people who can think”, because the hearthlings really can’t think for themselves.
So, let’s say you want to build a house that’s going to take 40 logs to build, and you need another 40 logs for various furniture (I’m intentionally using generous allowances here; most houses wouldn’t have this much stuff in them and especially not in the early-game)… well, that’s about 8 trees’ worth of logs, so you’d assume it’s faster to cut down all 8 trees at once right? Surprisingly it’s actually not! I mean, it’s faster for you because you can just give one order; but from the computer’s perspective it’s 8 different “harvest” jobs being added at once, and 80+ hauling jobs being added simultaneously as those trees are chopped. If you have, say, 8 hearthlings at the time then they each have 10 jobs to do, assuming there’s nothing else going on (and let’s be real there’s always other stuff that needs to be done e.g. farming and cooking and crafting and possibly a trapper or some soldiers depending on your starting load-out), so your town is effectively “out of action” for a day while they clean all that up. And that’s assuming you haven’t hit “build” on the house yet either – if you have, then you can roughly double the complexity of all those jobs as the computer figures out which logs go to the building site vs going to the carpenter to make furniture…
Contrast that to cutting just 1 tree – 1 hearthling goes to chop it down, a couple come over to collect the logs and carry them back… others keep working on whatever other jobs are in the background. The logs are all collected within a minute or so. Then, you can chop another tree – your carpenter can start to make some furniture from the first lot of logs, and the second tree’s worth of logs will be waiting ready at the stockpile before the carpenter needs them! Now, imagine that instead of a stockpile you have some storage crates specifically for logs already placed in the carpenter’s workshop – maybe even an input shelf (in case you’re not familiar, there are various “input” containers which hearthlings actively keep filled; so if you set one to collect wood then hearthlings will move wood from other storage containers to that input container to keep it full)… that means all the items are neatly stored away in a container so there’s no need for the game to keep track of info like whether they should be casting shadows or not; simplifying the calculations that it has to do whenever it tracks those items in your inventory.
By cutting the trees one-at-a-time, it prevents the hearthlings getting overwhelmed with the number of jobs to do; and keeps everything flowing smoothly. You can even get, say, 1/4 of the logs you need for the main building to be built to be placed in input bins next to the construction site, and then start building… while 1 hearthling cuts trees gradually, a couple can carry logs and a couple more can use the logs already at the site for building; and the whole process goes along smoothly with nobody having to leave the construction site to go grab logs to build with! Obviously there’s some fine-tuning and balance involved, that kind of thing takes practice + you have you watch the hearthlings closely while they’re at work (e.g. do the builders run out of logs faster than they’re re-stocked? Are you cutting down trees while there are still lots of logs to be cleared, leading to the old problem of mess building up? Are all the logs going to the construction site rather than the carpenter?) – when you follow the action closely you learn how to help the hearthlings do their jobs smoothly, and where the inefficiencies in your “machine” are. From there, it’s pretty simple to make sure that everything ticks along smoothly
If you have a really big project (e.g. you want to mine out a chunk of mountain and build a large castle), then you can use another trick: it’s possible to move a full container, so just put some chests down next to your mining site and let the hearthlings clean up as they mine; then move the full chests back to town to save a bunch of walking! Note that this only works if you either already have stone stored in your workshops or you aren’t using stone for anything else at that time; otherwise the hearthlings will just walk all the way out to those chests to grab stone for other projects… the whole point of this strategy is to make the storage for the mined stone be right next to where the stone is being mined to cut down on all the back-and-forth walking, since that reduces the amount of work involved (both for hearthlings and the PC.)
As another general note, stockpiles are always inferior to containers – they don’t get items “off the ground”, they just bring them all together; that doesn’t reduce the amount of work that the game has to do to keep track of them all and in fact it creates slightly more since they’re now valid targets for stealing when raids happen. So, it’s always best to use containers wherever possible. Remember that “general storage” is another trap that creates extra (needless) work for the hearthlings – if everything is thrown in one big warehouse, then hearthlings from all over town have to go to the warehouse to grab ingredients/materials/etc. for their jobs. Input bins can help a lot, but that still means a hearthling (or cricket golem) has to carry the item from the warehouse to the workshop… IMO it makes more sense to just store items at their respective workshop to begin with! Of course this sometimes gets tricky when you have, e.g. the mason sometimes needing logs; but that’s where input bins can save the day! Keep the bulk of your wood storage at the carpenter’s workshop, and then have an input bin/shelf for wood at every workshop (INCLUDING the carpenter’s!) that will use wood so that everyone stays stocked up. Obviously the carpenter is going to use most of the wood, the rare* times it’s needed in other workshops won’t add up to too many hauling trips to keep their inputs full.
*the blacksmith uses a lot of wood for fuel, but ACE alleviates this problem significantly with its alternative fuel sources. Even in the vanilla game, though, I just built 2 input bins for wood in the blacksmith’s workshop and that generally does the job. The key thing is to make sure that I’m regularly chopping down trees…
… which brings me to my favorite trick: “daily checking the gardens.” Because all these tricks rely on doing small jobs frequently rather than big jobs once, the key to making everything work is to have a routine where you check that everything is still running smoothly and order whatever harvesting tasks are required to keep everything stocked. My favorite way to handle this is to create “gardens” with trees, flowers, maybe some wild carrots/turnips/etc, berry bushes, and anything else that needs to be harvested manually** – sometimes I’ll even put animal pastures overlapping the gardens, or create a meadow with both animals and plants in it – and once every in-game day I harvest one of the gardens. This creates a cycle so it’s easy to make sure I’ve always got ingredients and materials coming in, and also makes it easy to remember to harvest things rather than waiting until I’ve run out. I usually do this in the evening while the hearthlings are relaxing or eating – I like to put tables in the gardens to use them as eating places too, so I get to see the hearthlings relaxing in the gardens at the end of the day and then from a roleplay perspective the story goes that they notice it’s time to harvest the flowers/fruit/whatever and mark that on the to-do list for the next day. Usually, these gardens are around the houses/workshops (I like to combine them) of different crafters, so it creates this really cozy story of a village where e.g. the carpenter can just walk out their back door to the small forest they’re growing to harvest wood from, and the herbalist has all their herbs growing*** around their workshop, and there are berry bushes lined up like a hedge outside the farmer’s house, and so on. I love this method because it takes what could otherwise be a chore (having to do lots of little jobs every in-game day rather than just using set-and-forget orders), and turns it into a story. It helps create the sense of life and interaction with your town… like you can feel/be part of the daily rhythms, rather than being a “frantic overseer” who is constantly just moving from one problem to another. This gives you a good reason to stop and watch the hearthlings go about their lives, and have them pick some flowers for you once you’re done “smelling” them hahaha
**you can use a mod like Auto-harvest, although if you do you have to remember that the order to harvest any plants you set to auto-harvest will be given as soon as those plants are ready to harvest – so just like with regular farms you can easily end up producing more than you’re using! Again, practice will teach you roughly how much you need to grow/harvest to supply your projects.
***for the herbalist and cook I generally keep a couple of small farms of flowers, and then have gardens as well which I save as “emergency reserves” of herbs that I can harvest if they’re needed. The cook ends up using herbs for only a couple of dishes, but they’re very effective (and in the vanilla game, roast sausages are worth a ton of money if you need something to trade!), so it’s well worth having a small herb field/garden beside the kitchens. Of course, it’s often a good idea to have veggie gardens next to the kitchens too… I like to have big dedicated farms for wheat and corn, but keep most of my veggie fields nearer to the kitchens and fairly small (growing as wide of a variety as possible to help keep different veggies in rotation all year round – ACE again makes a big difference, with different crops preferring certain seasons and weather), so that I don’t have to worry about making more veggies than I can use and then I can have bulk amounts of corn to trade or use for poyo feed and lots of wheat to bale up for later.
Speaking of baling up wheat for storage: those “supply piles” are mostly intended as a way to reduce the number of items you’re storing; they’re meant for long-term storage not as a quick way to store a few extra materials… like putting your blankets into storage throughout Summer because you know you won’t need them again for a few months. So, if you have a couple of dozen (or a couple of hundred) logs or stone or whatever then it’s worth making the storage piles from them so that you only have to store, say, 10 items rather than 100; that lets you use a single chest to store the 10 piles + some loose stone rather than having 2 chests full of loose stone. The best trick with storage piles is to keep them un-deployed in containers, and pull them out when you need the materials for large projects. For example, let’s say you’ve got like 10 stone piles stored away, and want to build a stone wall (a building, not just fences) on one side of town – well, you can simply place the stone piles strategically around the building site, and harvest them back to stone items when you need them for building with. Of course, they make for nice decorations too; I like to keep a couple of log piles beside the carpenter’s wood store and the same for stone piles at the mason’s workshop – that way, if I run out of materials for crafting with and it’s an emergency I can harvest them for an immediate supply boost.
Overall, all of these little tricks are about understanding the fundamental difference between jobs in Stonehearth and similar jobs in real life: Stonehearth is much simpler and has a lot less going on, but that makes it very important to watch what is actually going on in the game. The rules we’re using to using to get things done IRL don’t quite apply in Stonehearth, and we need to take the time to figure out Stonehearth’s “laws of physics”, understand how the hearthlings “think” (hint: they don’t! It’s just a checklist of “did this work? If it didn’t, try this! And if that didn’t work, try this!” over and over until something does work… and then they start from the top), and try to catch the moments where the hearthlings are doing things “the hard way.” Of course, they don’t know whether or not they are doing things the hard way; that’s up to us as players to figure out for them; and then we can indirectly guide them to doing things in a better way based on not just what orders we give but also what kind of infrastructure we have them build to make those orders easier (see: previous comments about input bins, also think about roads and temporary storage areas and where you place farms relative to kitchens and all that kind of thing.)
Often, if something isn’t working out the way you expect it to, the best way to solve that issue is just to try again and watch what the hearthlings do – keep watching until it starts to break down, fix the thing that caused that breakdown, and then next time you know to build the town in a way that doesn’t let that breakdown happen. Eventually, you learn how to either fix or avoid all the things that have been causing breakdowns…
… and then you suddenly have a large happy town where things get built quickly